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January 18, 2018


Dave Summers

I see a kind of virtual geography here which is parallel to the physical geography of our villages, towns and cities. Once upon a time most people, except those who had lost the use of their legs, were more or less equal in terms of their mobility and access to shops and other essential services. Food, clothing and so on were obtainable in any village. Then the railways enabled longer distance commuting, and social segregation as wealthier people moved to new towns and suburbs. Increase in car ownership and lorry movements resulted in two opposite trends: lower urban densities and more centralised provision of services, so that our towns and cities are now largely built around the car, and village shops, where they still exist, are disadvantaged both in price and product range. Basic services are out of walking distance for many people. The majority have benefitted from this, but mobility deprivation is an increasing reality for some. And Government austerity makes it worse, so in my own job I have much less scope (i.e. budget) to redress the balance by better public and community transport provision than I had 10 years ago.
What you describe is a similar increase in inequality in the cyber-world. Just as I like being able to buy a t-shirt in my local Tesco Extra at half past midnight (I once did), I like being able to do my banking in my armchair at any time I choose. I had a friend (who died many years ago now) who was divorced, lived alone and was unable to travel much due to physical disability, but loved renewing old friendships and making new ones all across the world through his computer. Of course he also valued the face to face contacts he had. But for those who do not have computer access, both the absolute and the relative disadvantage are increased.
One of my favourite bloggers, Richard Beck, has suggested that churches should run laundrettes - see http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/instead-of-coffee-shop-how-about.html There are obvious barriers to churches running banks, but is there anything churches could do to offset the isolation, both from banking services and from human interaction, which you describe?
Finally, it strikes me that the job of Minister for Loneliness could be quite a lonely one. I have at times been asked to advise on, or contribute, a chapter on transport to be included in some policy or other (for example, my Council's Children's Policy). I am glad when policy makers recognise that transport is an issue. But my general advice is that they don't need a transport chapter (job done, tick) but a transport audit of every other chapter. Similarly with loneliness.

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